Friday, October 7, 2016

Another by Daniel Freeman

A writer-poet is confused when he finds books reserved in his name at his local small-town library, in Daniel Freeman's existential mystery thriller.

The wheels of my life began to come off one beautiful summer day when I drove into town to collect a couple books from the library. I had ordered a book on mazes and another about African masks, but when I walked to the reserve shelves, I found four books containing white slips of paper bearing my last name and first initial.

I pulled out the books to see their titles, and while the one on mazes and the other on masks were there, so were two I didn't order: Randomness Disproven: A Dialectic and The Art of Subterfuge. You may be thinking there really is nothing so unusual about this - after all, surely other people use the library who may share your last name and first initial. I grant you, while this may be likely for the J. Smiths, R. Johnsons and A. Robinsons of America, it doesn't hold in my situation. My name is Zachariah Sugkuria, so you could imagine seeing "Z Sugkuria" at any library would be unusual, let alone written on paper sticking out of books right next to mine in a small branch in the remote town of Guerneville, population 4,534. Aside from my mother, father and sister, all of whom lived back east, to my knowledge there were no other people with the last name Sugkuria in the U.S., let alone in the world. Our original family name - Sogkoria - had been exceedingly rare in Greece before it was mistakenly changed when my grandfather had come to America, and with that alteration, we ostensibly became the only people on the planet with that surname.

Adding further to the intrigue were the titles of the books. Guerneville, while a pleasant vacation spot nestled along the Russian River, is not known for harboring philosophers among its few thousands souls. These were, really, books I myself would eagerly have read while in graduate school, when my mind lent itself more readily to esoterica.

Standing in front of the bookshelves, I thought it vastly more likely that the library system had made some bizarre error than that another person with the same last name and first initial could exist, let alone be living in the area reading books like these.

I went to the checkout and waited for the employee to finish whatever she was engrossed on her phone doing. She looked to be just out of high school.

"I was wondering," I said at last, "if you could tell me how many books I had on hold."

The girl scanned the two I had reserved and looked at the screen. "That's all of 'em."

"Are you sure?" I asked. "Because there are two other books on the shelf with my last name and first initial. Maybe the system accidentally reserved them for me?"

"Prolly just another person with the same name. Happens more'n you'd think."

"I'm sure it does. But look at my last name and first initial."

She did, and seemed particularly unimpressed by any point I was trying to make.

"Maybe a relative of yours?" she offered.

"I don't have any relatives out here. It just seems really odd. Has the system ever ordered books by mistake?"

"Not that I'm aware of." She passed me the receipt and the books, her fingers and eyes immediately back on her phone. "Those are due back in three weeks," she said to her screen.

When I got home Abigail was smoking grass and painting, her long brown hair pulled into a ponytail, daubs of paint upon her smock.

"Did you reserve books on randomness and subterfuge?" I asked.

She stepped to the side of the easel but kept looking at her work, her palette dotted with umbers.

"That's what a girl wants to hear when her guy comes home. Not, how was your day? Or, baby I've missed you. But, did you reserve books on randomness and subterfuge. Did I miss something?"

While putting away the groceries I explained. Abigail stood on one leg, the other pulled up in some yogic thinking pose, her typical stance when she wanted to concentrate. When I finished she put her leg down and lit a joint, taking a deep contemplative puff before offering it to me; I declined.

"It doesn't make any sense," she replied when her lungs had been fully cleared of their temporary vaporous guest, the swirling fragrant exhalation curling in the shaft of sun from the skylight. "Are you sure you didn't request them?"

"I think I'd remember ordering books like that. Besides, the girl checked: they weren't reserved under my account."

She considered this, then steered a different tack. "When was the last time you searched your name?"

We sat with our heads together looking at the laptop screen. She ran her fingers through my beard as I queried. "Sugkuria" appeared in the usual places, all regarding members of my family. And the only person with the first initial Z was, of course, still me. Numerous searches on genealogy databases and people-finders turned up the same few results they always had.

"This is very interesting, wouldn't you say?" Abigail said excitedly as she nestled against me on the couch.

"It doesn't compute. All of a sudden someone appears out of thin air with my last name and first initial in the same town at the same library and starts reserving books I might be interested in?"

"Yeah, isn't it great? It's a real mystery!"

"Well, it has to be a prank, right? One of our friends doing this? Are you doing this? This seems like a joke you'd think was funny."

Abigail laughed. "I wish I had come up with this. But no, it isn't me. And none of our friends would do something like this. Besides, don't you need mail with your name on it to get a library card?"

"Yeah, you do. And a photo ID. So someone went to the trouble to make a fake ID and have mail with my name sent to their address to establish proof of residency? That's outrageous! Who would do that?"

"Nobody we know," she said. "That's too elaborate a ruse for our friends."

"But then who? How? Why?"

She laughed. "You sound like a detective without a clue. Should we stake out the library and try to find out who it is?"

"I don't know. Let's sleep on it."



I dreamt that night about books, my unconscious in on the joke, flying books with my name on the bindings, on the covers, as the titles, but the letters jumbled, never accurately spelling my name. The fluttering books flew before my eyes and the pages flipped quickly, but I could still read them, and in all the books the words were the same. On the right-hand pages was the word "I" and on the left-hand pages was "You." Just those two words, over and over and over.

I told Abigail about it over strong coffee and toast spread with avocado, but aside from the obvious dualism of the words, no interpretation really fit.

"Maybe you have a doppelgänger," Abigail suggested drolly. "Another you, who, instead of being a shadowy demon lurking outside the window in the rain and lightning, terrorizes you much more subtly."

"By reserving library books?"

"Why not? If your doppelgänger is really another you with your thoughts, wouldn't it make sense for him to try to get at you in a more subtle way? One that not only puts you on edge but also bewilders?"

God I loved my wife.

"First of all, why do doppelgängers always have to terrorize their twin? Couldn't some doppelgängers just wanna hang out, go to a matinee, play doubles tennis? Second of all, maybe I'm the doppelgänger, not the other way around. In which case I'm the one somehow threatening the other in this situation. Have you thought of that?"

"Hmm. Maybe you're both doppelgängers."

I looked at my phone. It was just after 8:00. "The library opens at 10:00. You wanna paint a while and then go see if we can figure anything out?"

Abigail taught art and I taught English at the local high school, which is where we had met five years earlier. It was nearing the end of summer vacation, and we both had been enjoying a relaxing but productive couple months off, Abigail painting, I doing my best to complete a book of poetry.

At this moment, though, while Abigail painted in the sunroom, trying to compose verse was futile, the lines without cadence, the words imprecise and hollow. My head swirled with this insoluble mystery. I tried to make the poetry dance for me, but the syllables revolted, crashing in tangled heaps the more I tried to finesse them. As I stared at the screen I heard Abigail singing, a sign her painting was going well. Without having written a single useable line, nearly two hours passed and it was time to head to the library.

When we arrived we were the only patrons there. I half expected to see someone in a trench coat and mask ducking out the back. We walked to the reserve shelves but the two books from yesterday were gone.

"There's nothing here," she said as we examined the slips a second time. There was something in her voice that wasn't quite right.

"You believe me, don't you baby?" I asked.

She hesitated a sliver of a fraction too long. "Of course I do."

"You think I imagined seeing those books? My name on the slips?"

She didn't say anything.

"What about the titles?" I said. "How could I have imagined such specific titles?"

"Maybe you mistook the name on the slips? Could that be possible?"

"How could that be possible?" I said. "My last name?"

She paused for a moment and I knew what she was about to say. "There was that time a few months ago, when you could have sworn you had filled up the tank with gas, but when you checked in the morning it was nearly empty."

"Yeah, but that's not the same thing, that's -"

"You even checked your debit card transactions because you were certain you had gotten gas the night before. But you couldn't find any fuel purchase over the previous two weeks."

"That is hardly relevant here, Abby. That was forgetfulness brought on by fatigue. It was the end of the school year when everything was hectic and I was exhausted. Here you're implying I hallucinated and believed it to be real."

She smiled at me softly. "They're pretty similar, baby. You were sure you had filled the tank. Remember?"

"My name was on the slips," I said.



After lunch at the Mexican restaurant, which was never quite as good as we wanted it to be, we headed home and made love. It felt good to clear my mind and let myself relax. Afterward, while Abigail, wearing only my t-shirt, pattered on bare feet to the sunroom to paint, I settled down on the couch with the book about mazes. I flipped to the section on rare designs and found myself reading about dynamic mazes, which had walls that could be repositioned by an intricate system of pulleys and levers and gears. With recent archeological and anthropological findings at his fingertips, the author, one Leonard Adunatos, was making the case that in ancient Greece there had been a dynamic maze outside of Athens so large that once someone entered, it was impossible, if the walls were being moved effectively, for even the most astute and persistent problem-solver to find a way out. Eight tall towers had been set up around the perimeter of the maze, whose size Adunatos estimated at around ten square acres, and he suggested that the watchers in the towers would call down to people on the ground, who could then slide certain walls this way or that to endlessly confuse and perpetually aggravate anyone trying to find an exit. Adunatos even went so far to argue that the maze, whose walls were made of smooth stone and stood more than twenty feet high, was probably tested on prisoners or other undesirables, and more than likely no one ever made it out alive. It was an unsolvable puzzle, he concluded. I couldn't tell, by his flat tone, if he thought that favorable or problematic.

I told Abigail about it over dinner, and she mentioned how unfair it sounded. "As if it's not hard enough trying to make it through a maze the size of several football fields. Then they keep changing the shape of the thing? It sounds like torture. There's no way out."

After the meal we watched a comedy and drank some wine. I tried to talk about the library, but there wasn't anything to discuss. We were going around in circles.



In the morning I awoke feeling uneasy. I couldn't remember the specifics of my dreams, but the mood they had evoked was dark and troubling. We cleared the dishes and Abigail went to paint. I was too preoccupied to write, so I decided to call the only other person I thought could offer insight into what was happening.

Michael Halva was my former literature professor at Berkeley. He was also a mentor who inspired me to write and teach. We had grown close while I was in school, and after I graduated I made a point of visiting him every year at his summer cottage in Jenner, not a half hour from where I lived. He was easily the smartest person I knew, and I thought at the very least he would get a kick out of what was happening. He loved detective stories.

His wife answered and, after we exchanged pleasantries, she put down the phone and went to the greenhouse to retrieve her husband. While waiting, I mused that he might be the only adult I knew who didn't have a cell phone. A couple minutes later a welcome sound came on the line.

"Well, well," his voice warm and deep and friendly, "what a delightful coincidence."

"Coincidence?" I said, my voice cracking.

"Your novel arrived yesterday. I must say, I can't believe you were able to keep this a secret. I'm only a few pages in, but what I've read so far is, not surprisingly, brilliant. Congratulations on what must have taken you years to complete. And thank you so much for sending me a copy."

My heart thumped and my palms sweat. "You received a novel?" I asked lamely, unable to think of anything else to say.

"Not just any novel, Zachariah. The one you sent me!"

"Are you sure it's from me?" I asked.

The professor laughed. "You'd think I'd not mistake a name like yours! Besides, who else could come up with the title Mirrors on a Möbius Strip?"

Of course. My thesis had been on Gödel, Escher, Bach, and the professor and I had had long discussions about the Möbius patterns in the works of the mathematician, artist and composer.

I told him about the library, and he was, naturally, astonished when I informed him the book he received today, the one with my name on it, entitled something only I would think of, hadn't been written by me.

"You're pulling my leg," he said when I had finished.

"I wish I were. I have no idea what's going on, and I feel more unsettled than I ever have in my life. I'm freaking out, to be totally frank."

The professor paused. "This could be an elaborate hoax. A very sophisticated plot. Do you have any literary acquaintances with a great deal of time on their hands and a desire to confound, provoke, or otherwise toy with you in a devilish and rather remarkable manner?"

Despite my anxiety I laughed. "No. The only other writer I know teaches at my school, and he is married with two young daughters. He doesn't have enough time to grade his students' papers, let alone write a novel. How long is it, by the way?"

"Hold on one moment," he said, pausing. "540 pages."

"540 pages!"

"Yes, and the font is rather small. I haven't examined it carefully, but after reading the first few pages, I can tell you one thing: the prose is excellent, and it's in your style."

"What should I do?" I asked.

"We will solve this mystery together. I'll continue reading the novel just as soon as we hang up. You should probably return to the library and find out anything you can. Call me tonight, or come over. Hopefully we'll have much to discuss."

I hung up and went into the sunroom. Abigail was busy painting, but I told her about the novel, and she agreed to accompany me to the library. On the drive we went over possibilities. She had narrowed it down to three, none of which seemed plausible: 1. Someone was, in fact, perpetrating an extraordinary hoax, and eventually his or her identity would be revealed (she thought it was Halva, whose penchant for detective stories was well known). 2. I had actually reserved the books and written the novel, but some hitherto unrecognized memory impairment prohibited me from remembering doing so. 3. There were mystical forces at work whose motives and capabilities were inscrutable and would always remain so.

At an intersection waiting for the light to turn green I pinched myself hard to make sure I wasn't dreaming. It hurt enough to convince me I wasn't. Abigail saw me do this and looked worried.

The library was again empty when we arrived.

"You take a look," I said, standing back.

She examined the slips and pulled one of the books from the shelf. "Come see," she said.

I looked at the slip with my name on it and then at the book in her hand. It was an art book on trompe-l'oeil, something I thought Abigail might like to read.

"I didn't reserve that book. I know I didn't."

"Maybe you did but you don't remember?" Abigail asked gently, concern heavy in her eyes.

"No. You don't understand. I was going to order that book. I have been meaning to order it for you."

"Maybe it was in your queue and you forgot?"

I shook my head and looked at the shelf. There was another slip with my name and I reached for the book. It was a children's book. When I saw the title the book fell from my hands, which were shaking. I had the feeling one might experience just after walking off the edge of a cliff, right before you start falling.

"Zach, what is it? Baby, you're scaring me. What is it?"

"Nobody else knows I read that book. Nobody. I saw it in the dentist's office when I was a little kid. My dad had dropped my sister and me off, and while she was getting her teeth cleaned I read that book. It's about a boy who loses his shadow and has to outsmart the sun to get it back. I liked the story so much I hid it behind some magazines so my sister couldn't find it. I wanted it all to myself. A year later when I went back to the dentist, it was gone. I never told anyone about that book."

"Don't you think it's possible you reserved it?"

What I saw in her eyes did not console me. I picked the book up from the floor and grabbed the other and strode to the checkout counter, where the same girl from yesterday sat staring at her phone.

"Excuse me," I said, my voice far too loud for that quiet space. "Can you check my account for me? I need to find out if I reserved these two books."

"Well," she said, a little confused. "Is that your name on them slips?"

"Yes," I said, impatiently. I could tell she didn't remember anything of our conversation from yesterday. Abigail stood beside me and I could feel her anxiety.

"Then lemme scan 'em for you," the girl offered.

She ran my library card and then the books, looking at the screen and shaking her head.

"Nope," she said. "These are somebody else's books."

She looked more closely at the screen and then at the name on the reserve slips. "It's another person with the same name. Happens more'n you'd think."

"Yeah, I know. You told me yesterday. Can you see if I have any books reserved? Any at all?"

She looked again at the screen. "Nope, you don't have any on hold. These books are in another person's list."

I sighed and looked at Abigail.

"Is it possible," Abigail began, polite as a nun, "to get the address of the person who reserved these books? Or a phone number? Or even just an email? It's really important we speak with them."

"I can't do that, I'm sorry. It's against library policy."

"But," I said, "it's really, really important we get in touch with whoever reserved these books."

"I'm sorry, but it's against the rules. I could get fired for doing that."

"Please," I begged. "Please. Look, I have to know who this person is. They have my name, for Chrissake!"

"Sir," the girl said, becoming defensive. "Like I told you, that happens a lot. Now I am sorry, but I can't give out that information. No way."

I was about to explode and Abigail knew it. She grabbed my arm.

"Come on," she said, firmly. "We're leaving."

I looked once more at the books lying on the counter, the books I hadn't reserved, one of them a book only I could have known about. Then, with the audacity of desperation, I leaned over the counter and grabbed the monitor and tilted it toward me. "Hey!" the girl said as she tried to turn the monitor back. "Zach!" Abigail said, and she pried my hand from the monitor and pulled me from the counter. "I'm really sorry!" Abigail called to the girl as my wife ushered me outside.

When we got back in the car Abigail turned to me. "I know why you did that, but Zach, honey, you need to get control of yourself. This is getting out of hand."

I looked at the redwood trees in the park across the street, and though the sun was shining directly overhead and the day was hot, only the slightest wavering bands of light found their way through the thick canopy and onto the shaded, fern-lined picnic area far below. A family was having lunch at one of the tables, a young mother and father with two girls in matching yellow dresses. Twins.

"I got the address," I said.



Though its population is only a few thousand, Guerneville is quite spread out. When I plugged in the address, my phone said it would take almost a half hour to get there. It looked to be up in the hills in a remote part of town.

"Zach," Abigail said, as I began to drive. "This is ridiculous. And totally unlike you. You really startled that girl, and you're scaring me. What do you plan to do when we get there?"

I shook my head. "I don't know. But I need answers, Abby. And I'm scared too. I've never been so afraid."

"Then why do you think it's a good idea to head to this address? If someone really is messing with you, who knows what their plan is? Just how crazy might they be? Maybe we should go to the police."

"The police?" I said. "You're having a hard enough time believing this is happening. What are we going to tell them? 'Uh, someone's ordering library books and writing novels in my name.' They'll think we're lunatics."

We turned off the main road and started climbing a narrow street. On either side of us the woods were becoming thicker and the homes fewer and farther between. We drove in silence until the GPS indicated we were to turn off on a dirt road. A sign reading "Private Drive" stood out conspicuously as we started down it.

"Do you have any kind of plan?" she asked. "Or are you just going to knock on the door and say, 'Hi, excuse me, are you my doppelgänger?' "

I glanced at her and could tell how nervous she was. The map indicated we were a quarter mile from our destination. There was a pullout ahead and I maneuvered into it and cut the engine.

"I think we should walk from here," I said.



The road was deserted. There were no houses in view as we walked toward the address. The woods were dense and lush on either side of us, and in the thick canopy somewhere far above a pair of ravens cawed. There was a sound in the underbrush ahead and a deer bounded out of the woods and paused, graceful and alert, in the road. It took us in, wagged its white tail, and then leapt among the trees on the other side. We could hear its footfalls briefly as it disappeared and continued on its way.

"Jesus that scared me," Abigail said, and she grabbed my hand as we neared our destination. I saw from the GPS we were no more than 500 feet from the address. I shut off the navigation and put away my phone.

The road curved sharply and when we came around the bend we saw the driveway and gate to our left. A mailbox with the number 2323 stood by the road.

"This is it," I said, my voice low. We walked slowly toward the gate, which was far more imposing than any I had seen while living in the country. It stood nearly eight feet high, not counting the spikes, and its wrought iron design was as elegant as it was forbidding.

"Oh my God, Zach! Do you see that?"

My eyes scanned to the top and my heart misfired. In the middle where the doors met were two arabesque letters. Z.S.

"Yes, I see it," I said.

The gate spanned the width of the driveway and was connected to a high iron fence. Beyond it the road to the property wound back and out of site.

"Zach, baby, why would anyone need a fence like this out here?"

I didn't have an answer. I peered through the sturdy posts but could see nothing except the narrow dirt road and thick forest. "Let's walk along the fence and see if we can find anything."

"Zach, no. We should go. There's a reason someone builds a fence like this. It's to keep people out."

"We're going to stay out," I said, and began to walk along the fence. "We're just going to try to get a better look. Come on Abby. We need to find out what's going on."

Abby took a deep breath and reluctantly followed. We made our way carefully, wary of making noise. The fence had been following the curve of the road, but soon we reached a corner and were led into the forest.

The fence was in perfect condition, the posts too high to climb and the rails too narrow to squeeze through. I could see nothing through the fence except more trees, dense and very tall redwood, fir, pine and maple allowing nothing of the property beyond. Then, after a few more minutes of walking, the trees began to thin, and we caught a glimpse of red, with regular angles, something distinctly human made. A house.

We crouched and slowed. We were coming upon a clearing, where the trees had been cut back, and I could see enough of the house to make out its shape. I froze and Abigail bumped into me.

"Look!" I whispered.

She peered beyond the fence, through the thinned trees, and squeezed my arm with enough force to make me cry out.

"Zach! We need to go. Now."

We were looking at our own house. An exact replica of our home, with its red siding, white window trim and black roof, even the hammock I had put up in the spring. White and purple morning glories climbed along trestles on either side of the porch.

"They even got the flowers," I choked out. "This is fucking impossible."

We heard voices from over by the house. We ducked and waited, Abigail clinging to me. The voices, those of a man and woman, became more distinct. Around the side of the house two people were walking, a young couple. The man with a beard, the woman with brown hair pulled back in a ponytail, a smock smeared with umbers. Though too far away for their words to be heard, their voices were unmistakable. The man and woman stepped onto the porch and into their home, closing the door behind them.

I felt as if all cables, all anchors to reality had been severed. Slowly, I registered an incredible pain in my arm. Looking down I saw Abigail's fingernails pressing deep into the muscle. In any other situation I would have screamed from the tremendous hurt, but now, with a calmness seemingly antithetical to the terror that had overtaken me, I methodically pried her fingers from my arm.

The fear in her eyes made my skin crawl. It was like she had seen a ghost, an expression I had never understood until this moment. My composure dissolved.

"Abigail," I said. "Run!"

It was all she needed to hear. She turned and tore off along the fence. I raced after her, surprised how quickly she was moving. We were making tremendous noise, snapping branches and trampling the underbrush but neither of us cared. Our only thought was of escape, of making it away from this place and to the car.

We whipped around the corner and dashed past the gate and onto the road. I caught up with her, both of us out of breath, our hearts smashing inside our chests, our legs and arms pumping madly, our shoes slapping dirt, our sympathetic nervous systems pushed to their limits.

I unlocked the car and we leapt in. My hand shaking, I jammed the key into the ignition and brought the car to life. I ripped the shifter into drive and whipped the wheel all the way to the left and slammed the pedal to the floor. The tires skidded on the dirt but the car turned around and was picking up speed, racing toward the main road, heading away from whatever it was we had just seen.



Part of the beauty of going into shock is it helps you forget how terrible the trauma truly was. I recall only two things from that car ride. I remember looking again and again at the backseat; I was unable to convince myself we were alone, that someone wasn't lurking within. And I remember a paralyzed Abigail repeating "Oh my God, Oh my God, Oh my God" the entire way back. Somehow we made it without crashing the car. We parked in front of our house, with its red siding, white trim and black roof. We walked past the white and purple morning glories, onto the porch with the hammock and through the front door. I secured both locks behind us.

Once inside, I got us water and we sat on the couch. The initial shock had subsided but still it was almost impossible to think clearly enough to speak coherently. Abigail and I held each other, and she began to cry.

Some part of my nurturing brain was still functioning, some blessed inherited trait that kept me from falling entirely to pieces. "That's good," I said, stroking her shoulder, rubbing her back. "That's good," I whispered into her hair, caressing it, my mind regaining its ability to process information. Soon her crying abated and she softly pulled away, wiping her face with her shirt. I could tell she had largely recovered, her eyes no longer glassed with fear. We looked at each a long time before either of us could think of anything to say.

"That was us," Abigail said quietly, matter-of-factly. I was surprised how calm she sounded.

I nodded, kept nodding. "Yes, that was us," I said, like an idiot. "That was us. That was our house."

"Zach, baby. What in the hell are we going to do?"



Abigail opened a bottle of scotch we had received as a wedding gift, and as we drank, the powerful alcohol soothed our raw, exposed nerves. With every minute that passed and each sip we took, our experience in the woods felt less and less real. Like we had imagined it together, a shared delusion, an impossibly vivid dream whose contours were coming apart at the seams the more time elapsed. It couldn't have happened, is what Abigail kept saying; it was as if our brains, perhaps as a defense mechanism to keep us from completely unraveling, were trying to make sense of our experience while simultaneously working to convince us, at least initially, that we were mistaken. That we hadn't really seen what we did out there in the forest.

But this protective fantasy gradually dissolved as our bodies and minds returned to a state of relative homeostasis, aided in no small measure by the alcohol. Seemingly safe in our home, with the windows and doors locked, and out of any immediate danger, we were able to face reality and discuss our next move.

"What about the police?" Abigail asked as she poured scotch over ice. "Is that still a bad idea?"

I took a sip of the drink. Alcohol had never tasted so good. "The otherworldly nature," I said, "of whatever the hell is going on, seems like something that cops are totally unequipped to handle."

She nodded, sipped her drink and sat down next to me.

"How about we write a note," I said, "and put it in their mailbox? Asking them to meet us somewhere in public. I know how terrifying that experience was, but they - whoever they are - haven't actually done anything to us, aside from scare me with some library books."

Abigail stared at me. "That is certainly the alcohol talking. There is no way in the world we are ever going back out there."

I knew she was right.

"What about," she said, her face brightening, "we go out of town, leave in the morning. There's still two weeks left of summer break and we can go somewhere to figure this whole thing out."

It was like a weight had been lifted. "Baby, that is what we're going to do. We can go anywhere you want. Should we drive up the coast? To your sister's?"

She sat up straight. "Why don't we go to Professor Halva's? He might be able to help! Didn't he tell you we were always welcome?"

"Yes! That's where we're going. He might know what to do. Oh my God, Abby, this could turn out alright!"

Abigail hugged and kissed me warmly. She felt wonderful. Solid, real.

"I'm gonna pack!" she said, and went upstairs.

"I'm gonna call Professor Halva!" I yelled after her.

I took out my phone and dialed.

It was the professor who picked up. "Hello?"

"Professor, there's been another development. You won't believe it."

"Who is this?"

"It's me. Zachariah. What's wrong?"

There was a pause.

"How are you doing that?" he asked, his voice suspicious, perhaps scared.

"Doing what?"

"How are you emulating his voice so well? Who are you?"

Fear rose in me like a corpse at the bottom of a lake just cut free from its anchor.

"It's me, Professor. It's Zach!"

There was another pause. Longer this time. I heard talking in the background, all-too-familiar voices filtering through the phone. The clinking of silverware on ceramic.

"That's impossible," the professor finally said, his voice unsteady. "You're sitting at my kitchen table, along with your wife!"

6 comments:

  1. this is brilliant. so well written and with the tension slowly increasing as Zach nears the twist in the story.
    really, first class.

    Mike McC

    ReplyDelete
  2. Terrifying and as Mike said, brilliant. Many thanks,
    Ceinwen

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  3. Love it! I particularly love the idea of a moving maze, the way the relationship between husband and wife is portrayed so naturally, how annoying the librarian is (talking to her screen) and the beautiful quote about fear rising, already picked out by the editor.

    Bravo! And thank you.

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  4. I'm surprised that books with such titles are even obtainable from a library in a town with a population of under 5K. This is just the kind of story I love to read; academic post modernism, with a nod to MR James. I too loved the unlikely nonchalant repartee with Abigail the avocado-eating artist, and the library assistantspeak. My favourite passages are the visit to the 'hell ranch' and the desperate scramble back along the fence. Then disappointment set in, how could they both be so naive to believe that salvation lay in Halva? The ending was no surprise - not that an ending always should be a surprise, but what made me feel let down was that it was going the only way it could. It leaves the reader with no further possibility, no ambiguity. It's still a great read and beautifully phrased.
    Sorry my comment comes a little late.
    B r o o k e

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  5. This is a great piece of writing. I often love stories where the protagonist is a writer (I know I can relate to the character!). Libraries are special places and perfect settings for intrigue. Personally, I enjoyed the ending and was not disappointed in any way. Well done.
    S.Lucas

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  6. The ending of this story was incredible. This is almost Poe-esque with it's doubling. Really nicely building from suspenseful to shocking.

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